Republicans can argue until their last breath that Trump objectors are sore losers, but isn’t more at stake than “mere politics”? This phrase has been rendered quaint by such serious issues as Russian hackers apparently trying to tilt the election toward Donald Trump; the FBI’s possibly politically motivated practices; Trump’s initial resistance to the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community; Trump’s refusal to release tax records, which might mollify concerns about his relationship with Russia.
These aren’t partisan issues, or shouldn’t be, as evidenced by the Justice Department inspector general’s decision to investigate how FBI Director James B. Comey handled the probe of Hillary Clinton’s email and private server. The focus will be on Comey’s statement in July that Clinton and her colleagues were “extremely careless” with classified information but that he wasn’t recommending criminal charges — as well as his announcement to Congress just a week and a half before Election Day that, because of new information, he was reopening the investigation.
This fresh look pertained to new emails found on the laptop of Carlos Danger, a.k.a. Anthony Weiner (but, really, why the name change?), estranged husband of top Clinton adviser Huma Abedin. The emails subsequently were found to be inconsequential, but if there were any fence-sitters left at that point, at least many of them probably toppled into Trump’s camp, from sheer exhaustion if not outright disgust.
Let me help you: Eleven days to go and the man who had said there’s nothing to see here suddenly says, Hey, there might be something after all! And no one’s supposed to think this affected the election?
How could it not have? Anecdotally, I can report at least a dozen friends who say, “That was it for me.” But polling, too, suggests a consequential voter shift in the final days of the campaign.
FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s polling/analysis group, reported that Clinton had an 81 percent chance of winning in mid-October. About a week after Comey’s announcement, that number dropped to 65 percent. This rapid shift didn’t occur because people suddenly recognized that Trump is a brilliant foreign policy strategist. It’s true that undecided people often return to their party at the last minute, but this may not account for Clinton’s sudden drop.
While it’s impossible to prove that Comey had any impact, there’s enough reason for dissatisfied Americans to continue to protest the results — even on Inauguration Day. For certain, Comey acted against bureau policy never to interfere politically or discuss investigations so close to an election. If there’s any justification, Comey may have felt that the information would be leaked anyway.
Adding suspicion to skepticism, the hacking and release of Democratic National Committee emails also may have affected election results, though, again, it’s impossible to know how much, since, as far as I’m aware, we can’t read people’s minds (yet). Thus, we’re left to draw inferences from suppositions from what little else we know.
We do know that our intelligence community concluded that Russia hacked the DNC, and Trump finally accepted this last week. To concede that Russia was behind the hacking (rather than a 400-pound person sitting on a bed somewhere, as Trump at one point theorized) was, presumably, to admit that Russia helped him win. Well, didn’t it? Didn’t Trump loudly call upon Russia to hack Clinton’s emails?
For the undecided (or the unpersuadable), let’s pose a hypothetical: What if Clinton had publicly asked Russia to hack Trump’s records and release his tax returns — and Russia did? And what if the FBI announced less than two weeks before Election Day that it was going to investigate fraudulent practices at Trump University? Let’s say that Trump’s number dipped dramatically and he lost.
Do you reckon Republicans would be a tad upset?
The inspector general’s investigation into Comey’s conduct, as well as Congress’s investigation into Russia’s apparent interference in the election, are urgent, overdue and probably useless. Mostly, Comey is guilty of poor judgment. And Russia is being Russia — a fact best quickly absorbed by the soon-to-be president.
Yes, democracy needs saving and the republic’s foundation is showing wear. But isn’t the crucial question the very one that can’t be answered: Did we really elect Donald Trump to be president of the United States?
We may never know precisely who sowed the wind, but to be sure, we’re all going to reap the whirlwind.
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